Tulane Brain Institute awarded one million dollar grant

The Tulane Brain Institute, a collaborative effort among faculty members and students from the School of Science and Engineering and the School of Medicine, recently received donations from both the Louisiana Board of Regents and the Priddy Family Foundation to advance the Institute’s pursuit of interdisciplinary research and innovation.

Earlier this summer, the Louisiana Board of Regents awarded the Brain Institute a one million dollar grant to be used over the next five years to purchase one piece of new equipment annually.

Brain Institute Director Jill Daniel said the faculty is currently looking into purchasing specialized microscopes specifically designed to meet the needs of neuroscientists.

The Institute plans to acquire state of the art imaging equipment, such as a functional near-infrared spectroscopy system to build a Human Research Core in the J. Bennet Johnston Building of Tulane’s downtown campus.

According to Daniel, this system will act as a compliment to MRI machines; however, they will be more portable and can be used in situations with small children or psychiatric patients where using an MRI might prove difficult.

The Brain Institute, located inside Flower Hall, also intends to build new core labs in order to study the brain’s effects on the human body. These laboratories will include a Cell and Tissue Imaging Core, which will house the Institute’s new microscopy systems, as well as a research lab to test the brain’s effects on human body.

“We have a group of Brain Institute researchers who are trying to understand what we call Brain-Body Health,” Daniel said. “How does the brain control body health? For example, the brain controls glucose levels and plays a role in diabetes. And so, we’re trying to develop a core lab to test metabolism.”

Additionally, a pledge for $1 million was given by the Priddy Family Foundation, founded by Tulane Alumnus Robert Priddy, to establish the Priddy Family Spark Research Endowed Fund. This initiative will provide competitive funding to faculty members whose early-stage research shows both scientific merit as well as the potential to enhance the Institute’s reputation and national support.

The Priddy Family Spark Research Endowed Fund will enable faculty members who receive this award to gain seed funding, which they can use to further their research in understanding and treating brain-related diseases.

“This remarkable gift will allow the Tulane Brain Institute faculty to take risks in their research as they test early-stage ideas and gather pilot data to increase their competitiveness for external funding,” Laura Levy, vice president for research at Tulane, said in a Tulane University press release. “The gift will provide long-term support for the kind of bold and innovative research that could lead to real breakthroughs in our ability to understand and treat brain disease.”

The pledge from the Priddy Family will also help to support student researchers working within the Brain Institute and provide students with new opportunities to become involved in the field of neuroscience. According to Daniel, such funding will allow students to enhance their own research and education, which will make them more competitive in their future careers.

“This latest act of generosity from the Priddy Family Foundation will provide opportunities for Tulane students to join the efforts of Tulane Brain Institute researchers in exploring age-related dementias and other neurodegenerative diseases,” Tulane President Mike Fitts said in an article by The New Orleans Advocate.

Tulane’s neuroscience program has flourished since first being established in 1986 as the university’s first interdisciplinary PhD program and, at the time, one of the first neuroscience programs in the country. Since 2000, when the undergraduate major was incorporated into the curriculum, many students have graduated with or decided to pursue a degree in neuroscience.

“We really attract some of the best in the country, and if you want to attract the best students, you need to attract the best faculty. If you want to attract the best faculty, you have to have the best facilities,” Daniel said. “As we build these core facilities, it’s going to enhance the education of our students.”

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